Tom Vs The Weather

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It is beginning to feel like the weather has a personal vendetta against me.

Race weekend = biblical conditions

Mountain Mayhem 2012 – oh, the mud
SITS 2012 – oh, the mud. But enduring it lap, after lap
3 Peaks Cyclocross 2012 – wind, rain, bare-knuckle fighting with Mother Nature
Anglesey Trail Ultra 2013 – cancelled due to snow
Edale Skyline 2013 – cancelled due to snow

I was meant to be running the 20 or so miles of fell encircling Edale, in the Peak District on Sunday. I was really, really looking forward to running. My last “serious” foot race before things take a two-wheeled turn for the rest of the summer. Fit. Fast. Keen.

Except it snowed a little bit. Quite a lot actually. The Edale valley was pretty much shut off from the world. A few hardy locals headed out on Sunday, and it took them two hours to reach Win Hill. At that rate, no one would have made the cut off time at Mam Nick.

Body and mind ready to race, ready to exert effort. Sitting on the sofa on Saturday morning, enjoying a second carb-heavy breakfast, the cancellation text message came through. I was left with an emptiness and loss of purpose for the weekend. I was ready to suffer, and to enjoy the extreme conditions. I wanted to be out there and experience nature, but I wanted it because there was a purpose. I was racing. Now that was taken away. I could of course still go out, but now that there was no need to, my urgency and drive disappeared.

We headed out for a local bike ride, earlier frustration slowly melting, unlike the trails which were buried deep under a luxurious carpet of snow. Ducking between trees, drifting wheels, vague steering, effort, warmth. Never more than 3 miles from home. Viewing familiar trails in less familiar conditions. One of the lovely things about riding locally with Jenn has been that she has now explored many of these trails herself, with the eyes of an inquisitive newcomer. She’s been up the trail just up from the one I normally turn off at, and been back down my usual climb. I now get her view of “my” woods.

Sunday. The day of cancelled race. We run anyway, changing in the warmth and convenience of the bedroom, rather than contorting in the car. Closing the front door and stepping out on to the snow. Run north west, snow now stained with black-leaf-litter footprints. Out into open countryside, wind-torn fields, bare of snow. Drifts, towering high. Picking footpaths linking place names more usually visited in the car or by road bike. Eccup, Bramhope, Chevin, Menston. Climb on to Ilkley Moor. Biting wind, wild. And descend, with loose legs, on loose snow, we tumble and slide, giggling. Within minutes bleak moor becomes Victorian residential, becomes Ilkley town centre. Coffee, warm train. Home. It wasn’t “hard” in the same way a race would have been, but it was out there. It wasn’t the comfort of the sofa. It wasn’t feeling sorry for ourselves.

The weather may have a vendetta against me, but I actually still quite like the weather*

*although would be really happy if it warmed up significantly and the sun came out, please.

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The ultra that wasn’t

After a Christmas break in the Lake District, with the bike left at home, but running shoes packed and used every day, I thought I might as well use the little bit of condition that I had earned and enter a race.

I like the simplicity of running. Even when compared to riding a bike, which needn’t be a complicated sport (although we often seem to do our best to make it so), I love that all I need is a pair of trainers to run. I also find it much easier to up the intensity when on foot. I really struggle to do an intense 45mins on the bike, but when running, I find it relatively “easy” to push myself to the point of exhaustion.

Having said that, I didn’t enter a short race. In fact I decided to enter my 1st ultra marathon. An ultra is technically anything over the regulation 26andabit miles of a marathon. My choice of the Anglesey stage of the Coastal Trail Series was 33 miles. Fairly short in terms of ultra distances, but a good 5 miles more than I have ever run in a day before. It was also 75% off road, much of which was on undulating and tricky coastal trails. The kind of race that needs suitable training and preparation. I signed up with 3 weeks to go. Then got injured. Ace.

I managed a pain free 5k run into work on the Thursday before the race on the Saturday and declared myself fit and ready to go. The weather forecast made for “interesting” reading, but our (Jenn was coming across too. Originally planning to do the marathon, a late entry meant that she ended up on the ultra course too) main concern was whether we would be able to drive to Anglesey; heavy snow was predicted for the North. I took the most sensible approach and tried to ignore it.

The drive to Anglesey turned out to be beautifully easy. Little traffic, and no snow. It was surprising when a friend posted up a picture of a heavily snow covered Holyhead on twitter. It was literally only as we crossed the bridge over the Menai Straits that the snow started to fall, and we almost immediately got stuck in a queue of traffic on the A55. It took over an hour to drive the 15 miles to Holyhead, but we got to the B&B, and started eating and faffing with gear and eating in preparation for an early start on Saturday. Again, I tried my best to ignore the foot or so of snow outside. At 8pm the cancellation email arrived. Frustratingly late, but the organisers had been working hard all day trying to mark courses, only for the markers to be covered by fresh snow. By way of compensation to those who had travelled up, they were still running a “fun” 10k course around and up and down Holyhead mountain. Not quite the ultra I had been psyching myself up for, and I was thoroughly deflated.

Luckily a big breakfast helped cheer me up… Never one to stay grumpy when food is on offer.

Saturday was beautiful. Blue skies, sunshine, and lots and lots of snow. We met Amy, Ali, Greg and Pauline at the event centre and set off around the course… Stopping regularly to admire the view/throw snowballs/bury Pauline. The snow made things heavy going, and despite there now being a trail trodden through the snow, it regularly came up to calf height. The first guys through had the pleasure of some waist height drifts. The full 33 miles would have been an epic challenge, and one which was rightly saved for another day.

That does leave me with an itch to scratch though. I still fancy ticking off an ultra in 2013…

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